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BeachRoadCycling. Cadel triumph should help shift focus to bicycle safetyCraigFryTheAge12.8.11

Cadel triumph should help shift focus to bicycle safety
Craig Fry
August 12, 2011

Cedal Evans's homecoming parade in Melbourne today is a fitting acknowledgment of his remarkable achievement a few weeks ago as the first Australian to win the Tour de France.
Given that much recent attention on cycling in this city has taken a riders versus drivers focus, today's celebration sends a sorely needed positive message about cycling.
Available estimates show that cycling participation is already high and continues to grow in Australia. According to the government's yearly Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey, about 12 per cent of the population participates in cycling, a 45 per cent increase since 2001.
Not all of this cycling takes place on our roads, but on-road riding is also increasing. Alongside this increase has been a steady increase in serious injuries from cycling accidents involving motor vehicles. The 2009 Henley and Harrison report showed a 47 per cent increase in rates of serious injury for cyclists for the period from 2000-01 to 2006-07.
Annual cycling injuries now number in the thousands and the debate about cyclist and driver behaviour suggests that a much higher incidence of near misses is unreported.
It may come as a surprise then that the goal of the Australian Bicycle Council's national cycling strategy is to double the number of people cycling by 2016. It is hard to ignore the fact that serious injuries to cyclists have been increasing over the past decade. Cycling-related deaths are far too common.
It is time to scrutinise plans that aim to get more people cycling more often. We should pause to ask: Are we doing all we can to maximise the returns and minimise the potential harms?
I will be at the victory parade today yelling for Cadel as loud as everyone else. But I will also be feeling a little uneasy about what might be looming on the horizon for cycling. I am doubtful that we are prepared for the boom in cycling popularity that many experts say is coming.
The cycling safety education and prevention campaigns we have are worthwhile, but they alone won't deliver the behaviour change needed to achieve the reductions in cycling injuries and fatalities we all hope for. Design options such as greater segregation of bikes and cars are also important, but are only part of the solution.
The behaviour-change barriers we face are significant. They include our love affair with the car, and a roads and public transport network in most of our major cities that encourages driving. Driver and cyclist attitudes are also key factors in the safety equation.
Something more needs to be done. We will need bold and brave regulatory approaches to address these factors.
One idea is mandatory education courses as a condition of gaining a driver's licence, and at licence renewal time. Another option is a system of licensing cyclists who intend to ride on the road, where it is the person who is registered, not the bicycle. The system could include rider education and bike safety courses subsidised by registration fees, government and organisations such as Bicycle Victoria.
A national cycling training scheme would be a worthwhile component of such a system. We could also look at options for visible registration numbers for cyclists, which can be recorded and reported, as a way of deterring people who ride dangerously and illegally.
Today is a day for acknowledging the first Australian to win the Tour de France. It is also a day to think honestly about the realities of cycling in Australia, and what might lie ahead.
Associate Professor Craig Fry is head of health ethics at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
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